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 Definition Any theory, or system of theories, that is deceptively claimed to be scientific. [d] [e]

During the Big Cleanup I marked this as status "Developing" because, although far exceeding the length requirement for "Developed," the article is obviously still undergoing considerable change. Bruce M.Tindall 17:02, 5 April 2007 (CDT)


This is potentially a very controversial article, trimmed from a Wikipedia article that has long suffered from disputes, mainly arising from its use as a vehicle to attack particular subjects or fields regarded as discreditable by some, but as respectable by others.

Articles should not seek to promote or to disparage particular beliefs, only to accurately report the opinions of notable authorities when argued carefully in strong, verifiable sources. This article is about the concept of Pseudoscience, and the difficulties of distinguishing pseudoscience from "real" science, and should not get sidetracked into judgements on any area of science or alleged pseudoscience except insofar as is essential to illuminate the problems encountered in trying to make a rigorous distinction. In doing so, the article should not appear either to endorse or to rebutt the proposition that any given area is "pseudoscientific", as a key issue in dispute is whether the term has more than perjorative content. As an on-line encyclopedia, sources should, wherever possible, be verifiable online (e.g. in PubMed abstracts), and some of the present sources could be improved upon in this regard especially. However some major sources are prominent books by Popper, Kuhn and others, and their use is unavoidable; key elements of their content may be available as quotations in secondary sources on-line; if so please add these. The article is still very raw, and I think that neither the views of Popper or those of Kuhn are treated adequately. There should be a section on "popular" conceptions of what constitute pseudoscience; this will be difficult to write neutrally. Gareth Leng 16:20, 28 October 2006 (CDT)

Yes, it is for that reason I was surprised it was selected as one of the pilot articles. Getting hands dirty early I see. :) I'm not sure quoting a dictionary as the first line of an encyclopedia article is something we want to encourage doing either. -- Andrew Lih 04:54, 29 October 2006 (CST)
I think you're correct that the WP article has been used for that purpose (for quite some time, I might add), and you're also quite correct that using it for that purpose is strikingly contrary to the neutrality policy. --Larry Sanger 20:45, 18 January 2007 (CST)

Good point, and fixed?Gareth Leng 08:33, 29 October 2006 (CST)

What concerns me a little is the relatively detailed discussion of 1 & only 1 subject in the last part, psychology, As the article reads, it could be judged as intended to imply that

this is where most of them are found. It may well be that a great many are to be found there, but a discussion of several fields would seem more reasonable. If there's need for a "pseudoscience in psychology" article, so be it, but that is really going to get controversial, It is not my view, but I've known people to say it includes the entire subject. DavidGoodman 23:01, 1 November 2006 (CST)

I think you're absolutely right, and that section is inappropriate and should just be deleted.Gareth Leng 03:31, 3 November 2006 (CST)
Excellent work! This article has transformed from a wholly pejorative embarrassment to a truly education experience. Makes me proud to be a part of it, but all I could find was a missing period;) Good job Gareth. --D. Matt Innis 07:54, 12 December 2006 (CST)

This article is a little weird. A lot of it really belongs under "philosophy of science." It goes on and on about that, but I saw only a handful of references of well-known pseudo-sciences. Wouldn't the reader be better served by a list of oh, five to ten representative ones, along a description of any debate over them that seems especially noteworthy?

I nominate: astrology (gotta have that one), alternative medicine (maybe with subsidiary examples like chiropractic, prayer healing, or acupuncture), ancient astronauts, and ESP / psychic research. Oh, and please trim down the other stuff, and make it not so preachy. And can we get some kind of timeline showing various skeptical campaigns? I know there were anti-Spiritualism activists in between the World Wars. Bei Dawei

Yes, this article is intended as a serious part of the phlosophy of science, and to address the question of whether the term pseudoscience has any "scientific" content at all. It is not intended to pass judgement on whether any particular subject has valid foundations. The list you give all have problems; astrology is not really capable of being confused with science so is scarcely pseudoscience except as a mere pejorative, it has been used extensively as an example, and analysing it as an example has shown how even in this clear cut case of utter rubbish, it's hard to make an objective case distinguishing it from other areas of legitimate science. Chiropractic is a licensed and regulated profession with in some areas a good record of efficacy, and a basis that is not really pseudoscience more "fuzzy" science; acupuncture theory isn't scientific at all in the conventional sense, but again acupuncture has a good record of efficacy in some conditions; prayer healing and spiritualism as religion are outside the domain of science; astronaut stuff is light popular rubbish, and is not treated seriously enough for any authoratative criticism to be citable. The main skeptical campaign that I know of was the AMA crusade against chiropractic which ended in the Wilk case, where the Supreme Court ruled that the AMA had operated a dishonest campaign in defense of its members interests that involved suppressing evidence of the effectiveness of chiropractic. This is covered in the chiropractic article in detail, but is not really relevant here as the issues in the end were about anti competitive selective use of evidence by the AMA, not about weaknesses in the foundations of chiropractic.

Overt debates about the pseudoscientific nature of particular areas don't really feature much in the serious literature except in the context of the demarkation problem (within philosophy), except in some areas of psychology, where these are largely internal debates. Partly, this is because many critics of particular areas simply do not use the term pseudoscience, partly because of the lack of an effective operational definition of pseudoscience, and partly because the pejorative overtones detract from objectivity.

The areas where there has been a lot of serious debate about the pseudoscientific status of a field are 1) intelligent design 2) psychoanalysis and psychotherapies 3) IQ science

Other areas include the social sciences, and nutritional science. I think though that serious critiques belong in their respective articles, not here, which is about the concept of pseudoscience Gareth Leng 06:22, 17 January 2007 (CST)

My point is that there is already an article on Philosophy of Science--this one shouldn't duplicate that.

Point taken re ancient astronauts, which isn't even really about science. (I thought of them because of Carl Sagan.) No objection to the three fields you mention.

"Alternative Medicine" (including chiropractic) is often discussed in medical circles, though perhaps not among philosophers of pseudo-science. I'm not proposing that the article should condemn it, only that it should receive mention as a prominent area of discussion. Bei Dawei

There are certainly overlaps with this and Philosophy of Science, and Scientific Method and also Junk science, hence the plan at the top of this Talk page. The concept of pseudoscience is a marginal issue in the philosophy of science. I have some problems with the content that you have added, mainly in that the discussion of the concept of pseudoscience makes it clear that it is not a well formed objective concept; the argument for example of McNally, Lauder, Feyeraband and Tirozzi is essentially that calling anything pseudocience presupposes that there is an objective demarkation between science and non science, and this is what is deeply disputed. This is NOT a defence of bad science, rather it is to say that something might properly be criticised as illogical, contrary to known facts, vague, incoherent, fraudulent etc, all of which can be documented objectively, but the term pseudoscience is merely an arbitrary judgement based on presumed authority; it's a label guaranteed to inflame but with no content. The problem with any examples therefore is that to sustain a critique on them which is fair requires documentation of these specific criticisms - but these criticisms still do not themselves qualify as criteria for calling something pseudoscience. Now a huge number of things have been called pseudoscience by somebody or other at some time or other in popular sources, and cataloguing these is a bit like writing an article on intelligence with lists of people who've ever been called clever or stupid. In other words I feel that there is an arbitrary editorial element in choosing which to discuss. For the serious cases, we'd be duplicating the critiques on theeir articles (intelligent design for example). I think there might be a virtue in taking one or two examples like phrenology and astrology and analysing the reasons why people have tried to label these as pseudoscience and the difficulties in so doing - philosophers have found it very difficult to find objective reasons for calling even astrology pseudoscience, while calling phrenology pseudoscience seems an ahistorical fallacy.

What I'd like to suggest therefore is that this article should be restricted to the plan outlined at the top of the page, and that the bulk of your changes be translated to a rewrite of the potentially overlapping article on Junk science; I think that we we'd be developing separate themes, not designing a rather ungainly camel? What do you think? :)Gareth Leng 05:31, 18 January 2007 (CST)

I have to agree with Gareth in that the examples seem somewhat arbitrarily chosen. I also agree that it's quite important that they not be thus arbitrarily chosen. The only nonarbitrary way to choose more than a few examples, and the best way to choose those examples probably, is to consult many texts that discuss pseudoscience, and see what the main examples used by them are. Then you can say: "In discussions of pseudoscience, the following examples come up frequently: ..." I don't know enough about discussions of pseudoscience and the popular field called "skepticism" to be able to have any opinion on what the examples ought to be.

I must also agree with Bei, however, that the philosophical discussions that go rather deeply into the pure question what "science" means, while obviously directly relevant to the topic of "pseudoscience" (you can't say what spurious science is without defining "science"), might more properly belong in the science article. What seems to be wanted, in my humble nonexpert opinion, are the highlights and conclusions of the in-depth discussions of the nature of science, just enough to make sense of claims made about pseudoscience. --Larry Sanger 22:48, 18 January 2007 (CST)

"For example, the nineteenth-century Western traditions of osteopathy and chiropractic champion certain practices which the mainstream rejects as ineffective, and inconsistent with scientific understandings" No this is a misrepresentation of both. Both are clearly recognised as effective in specific conditions (by for example, summaru statements by NIH, advisory bodies, sstematic reviews etc); both had historical origins that were every bit as eccentric as much of the conventional medicine of the time, and both have plausible but disputed rationale for treatment; there is nothing inconsistent with scientific understanding about either and I don't think I've ever heard that claimed, although I have seen it argued (within the chiropractic literature) that some of the concepts used are pseudoscientific in being vague and imprecise. We really have to be careful in this article, because of the danger that it might express the arrogance of experts. Gareth Leng 12:52, 19 January 2007 (CST)

Hear, hear, Gareth. Experts can indeed be quite arrogant, as can their less-expert followers, and in this article and some others, we can easily find ourselves branded as arrogant elitists if we don't do it right. What's ironic, though, is that you, Gareth, tenured professor at a major research institution, and I, editor-in-chief of this project which is sometimes falsely accused of "elitism," are the ones so strongly insisting on this point--against the unfair and arrogant attitude of the Wikipedia article!!! --Larry Sanger 22:45, 19 January 2007 (CST)

Well said, Gareth, I would love to sit in on one of your lectures. I understand that you have been known to have standing ovations. Now I know why. --Matt Innis (Talk) 23:18, 20 January 2007 (CST)

Chiropractic and PS

Hey guys, while I don't consider myself an expert in PS, I do consider myself an expert in chiropractic and I suppose as long as it is going to get an honorable mention here, you probably could use my input. Anybody have any verifiabble and reliable sources that state it is pseudoscience? Otherwise, the pejorative nature of the term pseudoscience seems a little harsh. Maybe some clarification at least? --Matt Innis (Talk) 08:37, 18 January 2007 (CST)

Whether it *is* a pseudoscience, is an opinion (which I happen to accept). But as a matter of *fact*, it is often *called* a pseudoscience. For that matter, almost every form of CAM has been so labeled. If you just want a citation, I could always hunt up something from the AMA statements from those trials--Bei Dawei
I do appreciate your opinion, but I am also looking for the reliable and verifiable source that says the same thing. In the trial you mention, the AMA admitted that they covered up research that chiropractic was beneficial, I'm not sure that would make them reliable considering at that they were direct competitors at the time. Anything more recent? I think that if we could at least clarify that it is the old Innate Intelligence concepts that were PS would work for me. --Matt Innis (Talk) 22:34, 18 January 2007 (CST)
Matt, my comment here may long since been overtaken by events. While we are have an active discussion at placebo effect about the neurotransmitter release and manipulation that do seem to be verifiable effects of some adjustments, and perhaps also some other physical techniques such as acupuncture.
I bring this up as a general example of, variously, good things done for the wrong reason: 1934 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, liver extract treatment of pernicious anemia. Well, yeah, it worked, and they were still giving Nobels for clinical work, but they really didn't understand the mechanism.
On a different note, I think you'd find some people, around 1905 on, calling relativity theory "pseudoscience", and the Nobel committee avoided controversy by giving Einstein the prize for the photoelectric effect. Later, some of Einstein's comments about quantum mechanics could be read at his considering that pseudoscience.
Once in a while, the nuts are right, usually for the wrong reason. Of course, in those cases, it doesn't take very long periods of time, with no more substantial theory, to develop the real model. Howard C. Berkowitz 16:29, 15 January 2009 (UTC)

Some comments on the article at present

"Pseudoscience--combining the Greek pseudo (false) and the Latin scientia (knowledge)--refers to a variety of theories and claims..." OK, this is total nit-picking, and I may be off-base, so take this with a grain of salt. We bold all article topics. Therefore, to mention rather than use the word in a title, it should also be italicized: Pseudoscience. The problem with that is that it looks jarring; people might think the article is about a book or a movie called Pseudoscience. To avoid this, then, we might change it to read: " any of a variety of theories and claims..." But now the problem is that, clearly, we don't want to use the word, because it's a biased epithet; that's why you wrote "refers to" in the first place. It's best, with such epithets, to mention them, not use them. OK, so we can say: " a matter of some controversy. The word pseudoscience is used to refer to any of a variety of theories and claims..." There must be a better way in any case.

OK, more later; must get pizza. --Larry Sanger 19:47, 18 January 2007 (CST)

Well, I think I'll make a few edits myself--see what you think. --Larry Sanger 20:44, 18 January 2007 (CST)

Uh, okay. You could always use quotation marks.
By the way, have we decided not to hyphenate, or did this happen more or less at random? --Bei Dawei
Compare [1] and [2], and also [3] and [4]

In popular usage, "pseudoscience" may also encompass certain theories and claims related to history (e.g., the idea that the Great Pyramid was built by space aliens) or religion (e.g., Spiritualist mediumship).

I don't think this sentence pays its own way. It may be true, but it isn't worth a special mention in the opening paragraph(s). --Larry Sanger 21:18, 18 January 2007 (CST)

My point is that the category of "pseudoscience" inevitably blurs into subjects that are not strictly scientific. For example mediums, psychics, and fortune-tellers are not merely persons championing unorthodox claims about psi, but often also religious figures. Discussions of prehistory (creationism, Atlantis) inevitably shade into discussions of history. And the same group of skeptics who go after psychics, also go after Graham Hancock. --Bei Dawei

OK, I agree with that. But then why not at the same time say that as a concept it is similar to "pseudo-psychology" or "pseudo-philosophy" or any number of other "pseudo"-field epithets--as well as "revisionist history" and so forth, even "cults" for religion (called "sects" in Europe)? If you're going to have a comparison to accusations of non-genuineness in one field, why not broaden the discussion altogether? Probably a good idea. --Larry Sanger 22:16, 18 January 2007 (CST)

No, no--that's much too broad. Think of it this way. The claim that I am able to levitate is simultaneously religious and scientific. It is difficult to distinguish attacks on one, from attacks on the other. Prayer is a little more iffy, since most pray-ers don't make definite claims for it, but prayer studies seem to belong on the same fringe of science / pseudoscience (and attract the same discourse, on both sides).
I would say that for practical purposes, the category of "pseudoscience" blurs into the "pseudofactual" (or unscholarly) in general. For example, Graham Hancock says that the Great Pyramid is a lot older than people think, based on astro-archaeology. (Circa 10,000 BC it would have lined up with Sirius, or some such.) This attracts criticm not only from geologists and astronomers, but historians and archeologists.
On another subject, I think accusations of "pseudoscience" cover several different categories. Some theories claim to be "scientific" but never had a chance, like Time Cube. Others (like cold fusion, or the hollow earth) once seemed plausibly scientific, but later turned out not to be. --Bei Dawei

I think there are too many lengthy quotes in the philosophy section, which should be paraphrased, perhaps. --Larry Sanger 22:37, 18 January 2007 (CST)

Yeah. Plus a lot of it tends to be much too wordy. Try to be concise rather than chatty. (I mean there, not here!) Bei Dawei

OK I've cut the longer quotes, trimmed others and elsewhere. On the preceding sections we must have proper authoritative citations, to explicit statements by notable, relevant authorities. So for example, is there a serious physicist who has prperly argued the case that the work of Pons and Fleischmann pseudoscience? Here for example is a case of refuted science not pseudoscience, but all science in the end is refuted or superceded. I am not happy with this article merely repeating prejudices expressed on websites and in popular media. Cold fusion is an idea that is apparently flawed, but that it was taken seriously enough to be published in Nature indicates it was taken pretty seriously at the time. Everything that is now known to be wrong can be said to be not plausibly scientific - but the pace of scientific change means that in biology for example, textbooks are out of date in containing numerous errors of fact about as soon as they are published. So this is the issue I have a real problem with. It's just too easy to call anything you don't like pseudoscience, and that sounds like a serious charge, but is it? What exactly do you mean by it? Gareth Leng 12:44, 19 January 2007 (CST)

The truth is that I don't know exactly what pseudoscience is, but I can cite mechanisms that are recurrently used by those who use science in inappropriate ways to make a case. For example, there's the "true but not relevant" category: in support of telepathy, vast numbers of details about brain anatomy and function are given , none that directly support that the brain has a telepathic function, but all that do show that some of the peripheral functions that might be involved in telepathy (or communication with the dead, or...fill in the blank) exist: the brain can register phenomenom occuring outside the body, the brain can process data; there are language centers in the brain, a human can "think out loud" and that during this process there are correlations evident on pet scan and EEG, etc. This kind of deluge of scientific data is typically combined with statements that appeal to the common wisdom: like only a small fraction of the human brain is used.Finally, the point is made that many phenomena in neuroscience are hard to prove, along with the inflexibility of scientists or prejudice of scientists against those who respect the paranormal. So it's not that I'd say pseudoscience is anything you don't like, but it is making a claim and then using science to back it while at the same time avoiding the kind of logical proofs that science demands, instead obscuring the issue with dazzling facts that are not relevant, even if they are true. Nancy Sculerati MD 23:14, 19 January 2007 (CST)

Excellent rewriting of the opening paragraphs, Nancy! --Larry Sanger 11:11, 20 January 2007 (CST)

Yeah, I see the same problem of demarcation. "Pseudoscience" kind of lumps together
(1) fields (astrology, psi research, TCM or chiropractic) which are claimed as science, but rejected by the scientific mainstream. (Notice however that we never call "political science" or "social science" pseudosciences, even when we don't accept them as scientific)
(2) particular claims like Bigfoot (or is he a part of a would-be scientific field called "Cryptobiology"?), of which
(2a) Some never had a chance (like Time Cube), while
(2b) Others were considered, but rejected (like the hollow earth theory)
(2c) Some still have a chance (like Bigfoot)
and we could also distinguish between
(2-i.) Those which were "good science," but happened to be wrong (e.g. ether or aether), and
(2-ii.) Those which were accused of being "bad science" (e.g. cold fusion)
(3) scientific criticisms of extra-scientific claims (such as the efficacy of prayer) which, if true, would have scientific implications.
And I still think "pseudoscience" also sometimes expands to include the "pseudoscholarly."
Maybe the article should make these distinctions. Are categories like these discussed in the philosophy of science literature on pseudoscience? Bei Dawei

I agree wholly with Nancy that what she describes is exactly pseudoscience - it is using the jargon and appearance of science to give something credibility without the rigorous skepticism and logical coherence that we demand as scientists. But this is a feature of the weak thinking of individuals, not characteristics of a field. To say that investigating claims of the paranormal is pseudoscience would be sheer nonsense, it's the mode of investigation not the subject that can be faulted. I understand that there is still work continuing on cold fusion, it may be possible and it may not be possible, there may have been flawed experiments and errors, but so it is in all science. Generally it seems that philosophers of science have foundered over any attempts to make the concept of "pseudoscience" scientific in the sense of being capable of any consistent objective definition. In fact the social sciences have certainly in their time come in for a hammering, from people like Alan Sokalas well as Richard Feynmann. There are several problems: first is the ahistorical fallacy: we might recall that Galileo's first major scientific undertaking was to estimate the dimensions of hell, that Newton regarded his major mission as being to date the origin of creation from analysing the bible and that he was an avid alchemist, that Einstein's theory of relativity was greeted with blistering invective at the time, that scientists of recent times like Margulis, Gould, and McClintock have all experienced quite virulent attacks for work now widely if not universally accepted, and that the double Nobel prize winner Linus Pauling is still attacked for his promotion of vitamin C. Gareth Leng 10:40, 21 January 2007 (CST)

I do like the new introduction. A question: Must pseudoscience be considered "fraudulent", or is it enough that it be "unsound"?
Galileo, on the dimensions of hell? Heh, I think I read something like that on the internet. Turned out to be endothermic, didn't it?  :-)
On reflection, I think the situation with prayer research (3) is that it is a scientific criticism of scientific claims (prayer effects this or that disease) which happen to have deep extra-scientific implications.
About these header quotes: whenever one leads with a quote, it kind of sets the tone for the whole article or section (like a sort of motto). Often the effect is to make the article appear to endorse the sentiment expressed in the quote. So if we use header quotes at all, they should be balanced, even-handed ones (or else a mix).
Oops, the new quotes weren't headers. Um, does anybody care if we just get rid of the "Other" subsection? I like the quote with a long list of pseudo-sciences, though.
One more thing: Someone has edited the "Complementary and Alternative Medicine" subsection to say that the claims of osteopathy and chiropractic have been proven. (I took that part out.) Is this something we need to talk about? I did leave in a distinction between alternative healing modalities which enjoy some sort of government licensing (homeopaths are licensed in Britian, if memory serves), and those that are still lobbying for it. Bei Dawei

Hi. On the other section, yes, I do care; I think that Feynmann's comments that the significant pseudoscience are things that pass for science but which aren't are absolutely critical, and Feynmann is a most notable and authoritative commentator. Nonsense stuff is trivial, it's the stuff that is taken seriously that matters, in my view anyway. On chiropractic, yes I removed some unsupported and I think unsupportable assertions. Chiropractic in the UK it is regulated in an analagous way to medicine, with a statutory body set up by Parliament that operates like the General Medical Council. In the USA every State has a State regulatory board. The efficacy of chiropractic for some conditions is not in dispute. (see NIH statetemnts, systematic reviews, summary statements of government committtees etc etc - se article on Chiropractic). The scientific basis of chiropractic is arguable, but it is not unscientific nor is it in contradiction to any existing science; i.e. its foundations are plausible but unprooven. This is is stark contrast to homeopathy whose tenets are clearly inconsistent with accepted science and which rejects scientific modes of investigation. Homeopathy is not regulated in the same way, but there are some homeopathic hospitals funded by the NHS, though I'm not sure to what extent they really practise homeopathy in the classical sense. Osteopathy is even more closely alligned with conventional medicine. These are not pseudosciences by ant rational meaning of the word. I'm not claiming any authority as a pseudoscience editor, but for this section on CAMs I do claim to speak with some expert authority. There is plenty of scope for criticism of chiropractic, and indeed there is a live Citizendium article on those, but to call it pseudoscience is not right.Gareth Leng 04:08, 22 January 2007 (CST)

Where in the article should the Feynmann quote go, then? "Other" doesn't seem like the right place for it. (Hey, any friend of Tuva...)
Do Chiropractors and/or Osteopaths accept that they are a part of CAM? I wonder to what extent it is possible to separate government recognition from recognition by the wider scientific community. (Sangoma or "witch doctors" are regulated in Swaziland.)
By the way, here is an interesting "fringe science" candidate to consider. Apparently there is a Russian school of geology which believes that oil can be produced artificially, in less than geologic time. Bei Dawei

In 2000 in the UK the Select Committee on Science and Technology published a long report on CAMs, distinguishing several categories according to their degree of acceptance, regulation and integration – chiropractic and osteopathy were the leading two in Group 1 as being regulated by an Act of Parliament. [5] That report for example states “Of the therapies in Group 1 we were made aware of good evidence of the efficacy of osteopathy and chiropractic. Indeed, they appear to be somewhat more effective than the manipulative techniques employed by conventional physiotherapists”

The third group comprised long standing traditional medicines like Chinese Herbal Medicine, and group 3b included crystal therapy, dowsing, iridology, kinesiology and radionics.

There is just such a range of things covered by CAM that pooling them together is not helpful as generalisations will be highly misleading.

On CAMs – chiropractic and osteopathy are based on empirical evidence – i.e. what is reported to work, not on theory – i.e. the theory is a rationalisation to explain what works, not a theory on which treatment is based – this is different to acupuncture, where treatment is according to a traditional theory. This is an important distinction I think.Gareth Leng 04:40, 22 January 2007 (CST)

On the timeline, I'm not really sure what it's a timeline of; is it a listing of significant events, in which case the Nature publication of ultralutions and the subsequent storm is obviously notable (Benveniste). The other high profile controversies would be the AIDS controversy (Duesberg)and the vitiman C controvery (Pauling), the MMR controversy (Wakefield) and allegations linked to that of pharmaceutical company distortion - the founding of the Committee on Publication Ethics = high profile cases of fraud (stem cells..) But what to include and why?Gareth Leng 04:56, 22 January 2007 (CST)

Yes, I was worried about the timeline too. By all means, add other stuff that know about, and take stuff away you think doesn't fit.
My aim was a list of "significant moments" in the dialogue or demarcation between science and pseudoscience, including for example episodes which impacted upon public consciousness (i.e. got into the newspapers). (Obviously a long list of pseudosciences with their dates of creation would take us too far afield.)
Unfortunately Velikovsky was never very well-known, though Sagan took the trouble to debunk him on an episode of Cosmos. I suspect that Mme Blavatsky will have to be taken out as the Hodgson report amounted a scientific debunking of religion, which is different than a scientific examination of the thesis that letters are capable of being teleported from Tibet to a special shrine in India. Bei Dawei

I do not have the time at the moment to scrutinize this article in the depth that is deserves, nor to fine tune my comments from a philosophical perspective (as I am not a professional philosopher descite a Ph.D.) I just want to briefly highlight the Organic farming movement in various versions as one example of a pseudoscience type movement that I would argue do not follow effective science strategies or norms (=pseudo science). I disagree with them because they do not follow norms of scientific methodology, and because this impedes progress. Clearly many of their practices are helpful, and intentions are laudible, but its the lack of accountbility to scientific norms that is unhelpful. Dick Taverne has recently written a readible account of it in The March of Unreason. I do not particularly want to push that topic for various ethical reasons but to flag it an another possible illustration. Ive "spoken" with Dick by email and his major source was Paul Gross, Norman Levitt and Martin Lewis's The Flight from Science and Reason. NYAc Sciences. In short, in this nest of vipers there's lots of material- navigating it , preserving neutrality, and making pertinent points is an ethical challenge which I admire you for tackling (it seems effectively, but I havnt closely read it yet ).

I agree, they way CZ tackles such issues will be the proof of out ethical system.

Ill return when I've more time and see if I can tease out some helpful criticism or points for better clarity - but I may not succeed! David Tribe 05:17, 22 January 2007 (CST)

The organic movement is something I feel strongly about and I suspect have views very similar to yours; I guess because of that I too am wary of introducing it here; my feeling is the rght place for a critique will be in an article on organic farming. But Taverne's book deserves to be added to the reading list, and perhaps accompanied by a sentence of explanation?Gareth Leng 07:56, 23 January 2007 (CST)

Possibly I'm repeating what has already been said, but I have two criticisms of the timeline. Firstly, it is a timeline of skepticism and not pseudoscience. I would say that pseudoscience is only a subset of what enrages skeptics. As an ex-skeptic I know that we can get as upset over sightings of the abominable snowman as over acupuncture. In the introduction we are careful enough to define pseudoscience as "an idea or theory that is held by its proponents to be scientific". I suggest we use that definition as our guide.
Secondly, even if by some means we construe everything that skeptics dislike as pseudoscience, it would still be inaccurate to attribute their timeline to the concept pseudoscience.
Pseudoscience translates in historical contexts to something more like heresy, so maybe our timeline should be a list of scientific heresies. Less appealing for me, although I grudgingly admit it is an option, is a list of ideas from the past that in hindsight we see as pseudoscientific. --Christian Steinbach 15:52, 30 January 2007 (CST)

A list of heresies - Oh, this is just such a wonderful idea, if you think you can make it work I'd love to see it. An admixture of cold fusion and water memory with black holes, the heliocentic universe, the absurdity of flight, Kelvin's rejection of an old age for the Earth, bacteria as a cause of stomach ulcers, the bacterial origin of mitochondria, Ho[y]le and the extraterrestrial origin of life, string theory, emergent behaviour, punctuated equilibrium, vitamin C and Linus Pauling, John Taylor's dalliance with Uri Geller... but didn't everything interesting start as heresy? I have to say I'm not against a timeline but, I don't really see an objective plan for it. Exactly what would we want it to enlighten? Please try if you think you can flesh this out; if it doesn't work here I'm sure it would seed a great spin off article.Gareth Leng 17:42, 30 January 2007 (CST)

Pseudoscience VS Science

Hi philosophy authors, sorry for my intrusion, but I have to say I really don't like how this article starts:

     Pseudoscience is an idea or theory that is held by its proponents to be scientific,
     but rejected by the general scientific community as fraudulent.

What I am abjecting here is "rejected by the general scientific community" sentence. When defined this way, Pseudoscience is a subjective matter. No doubts there is a historical change in the view of some parts of science (see the example of Plate Tectonics) but there must be a more objective way to define Pseudoscience. Plate Tectonics skeptics would be convinced today after all, if they were still alive, and they would agree that Plate Tectonics is indeed part of Science.

Science is defined much more objectively. May I suggest to start this article with something like:

Pseudoscience is any theory that is held by its proponents to be scientific, but cannot be defined as Science because it finds no correspondence in reality or lacks logical consistency.

Sorry for the ugly form, I hope you got the idea anyway. In other words, may I suggest to agree on a definition of Science, and define Pseudoscience as something that looks like Science, but it is not (Link to the definition of Science)?

Nereo Preto 06:30, 29 January 2007 (CST)

The problem is that science has no definition that can serve as an operational definition, i.e. one that is useable in a way to distinguish science from non science. Indeed its methodology is so variable between fields that essentially science is precisely the things that we scientists do, and so just as this defines science, so does the judgement os scientists define what is not acceptable as science.
As for convincing skeptics; Kuhn at least argued that scientists seldom abandon the theory to which they have given years of research, and remain tenaciously skeptical of new theories. However, scientists do not use the term pseudoscience is any serious way, its a term of mere abuse, signifying that something is beneath their serious consideration. It is not a reasoned conclusion with precise definition and careful rationale, with very few exceptions, the exceptions being philosophers who really failed to resolve the demarkation problem.
However, in response to uour comment, the bottom line I thinlk is that there is nothing objective about the term pseudoscience While itself appearing to be a scientific judgement, it is a term that seems irremediably subjective and unscientificGareth Leng 07:45, 29 January 2007 (CST)
Re "rejected by the general scientific community" issue, Isnt better to argue does not attempt to meet the ethical norms of good scientific practice, or something similar, fitting with the concept expounded by Gareth of science as defined by how scientist operate. David Tribe 17:20, 30 January 2007 (CST)

Thanks Gareth for your answer. Since I have noted that Science was defined (though the definition sounds technical, and perhaps difficult for the average reader), and since I can live with that definition, I was suggesting to link to that definition to explain what Pseudoscience is (if it is anything). But, perhaps, a firm definition survives in Science only because that article was worked less than this.

I've read Kuhn's "structure of scientific revolutions" (did I get the title right?). But I believe scientists DO change their mind, when convinced by evidence (or logics). Also, scientific revolutions that I know about are based on solid facts. The Earth DO rotate around the Sun. The universe IS more accurately described by general relativity rather than Newton's dynamics and gravitational theories. But I understand this is my opinion, which might be not so obvious to philosophers as it is for me.

It's just I can't believe ID is Pseudoscience and Evolution is Science only because most scientists think it is so. There must be something more about it. I think this article contains a lot of good stuff, and it is very important. Hence my persistence... Later in the article there is this sentence:

 Generally, pseudoscientific claims either (1) lack any supportive evidence, or
 (2) are based on evidence that is not established by scientific methods or
 (3) cite well-established evidence but do not use that evidence to logically
 prove the conclusions asserted in the claim.

Isn't it at odds with the definition opening the article? More specifically, this sentence do not require that "many" scientists believe that particular claim is Pseudoscience, it just explains some objective characteristics of pseudoscientific claims. I'd like this much more.

Nereo Preto 09:33, 29 January 2007 (CST)

Thanks for this very interesting thread. (The book is The Structure of Scientific Revolutions). Do scientists change their minds? They certainly do about things that they think are minor, and I guess big changes come in small steps sometimes. I think Kuhn was right though in saying that scientists generally hang onto their ideas pretty tenaciously. In my experience as an editor referees generally dislike challenges to accepted wisdom, even on a minor scale. If I can take myself as representative of scientists. I read perhaps 50 papers a month? Of these a few I'll consider as solid and interesting, and a few as utter rubbish, fraudulent in their use of statistics, illogical or ingenuously deceptive in their argument, misleadingly selective in their citations and casual or ignorant about the limitations of their methodology. For me, this minority of the literature is pseudoscience. But this is within my own field, and it's a judgement that requires immersion in my field to judge its validity, and it requires an acceptance of some tenets that might be challenged by others. I don't expect others reading those papers to see what I see without my background. ID and Natural Selection provide challenging issues. I think that most (almost all?) scientists who have thought in depth about ID consider it wholly unscientific and do so because they believe that what is presented as an explanation but merely evades attempted explanation. However the Theory of Natural Selection (and I was a primary author of the WP article) is not strictly scientific in Popper's terms. It's hard to see it as falsifiable, and hard to see studies of Natural Selection as determined attempts at disproof; instead it's a broad schema within which to accomodate all facts, whatever they are, where anomalies result in refinements or modification of the definitions or ad hoc explanations (and there have been many anomalies, see the articles on Horizontal gene transfer for some examples). Scientists accept this worldview because they consider it to be useful, but there is a strong aesthetic element in this; it's useful in part because it can be condensed to a simplistic form that will persuade many of its inevitable truth - even though that simplistic form will be strictly wrong, and the persuasion accordingly in part a deception.

So I think that in a head to head comparison (ID vs Natural Selection) it may be easy to see why scientists accept one and reject the other and to explain this. But different reasons apply to different head-to-head comparisons, and particular things may be regarded as critical by some groups of scientists in some contexts but not by others in other contexts. Nevertheless, I think a choice between competing theories might be explainable rationally if not wholly objectively. But even this is contentious, Kuhn argued that theories are incommensurable, you cannot fairly judge one by the assumptions of another, and he argued that they are rarely objectively decided by facts, because most give rise to anolmalies so it comes to the importance that you attribute to those anomalies. And where there is a field but no competition between theories what can we say? Feynmann for example considered that the theories of educationalists about how children learn were fundamentally unscientific - but what competition was there?Gareth Leng 06:16, 30 January 2007 (CST)

I can offer an opinion as a casual observer with interest in the topic that the text is starting to flow and the lead in is aestheically enjoyable. I sense progress being made. I see my comment here as just one vote from a potential audience David Tribe 17:13, 30 January 2007 (CST)

I understand from this talk page this is a hot and difficult topic.
I also realize I have sort of a bias here: I believe K. Popper was right, and T. Kuhn, wrong (I'll put this in my personal page!). This has roots in my education, as I grown my philosophical ideas in a course by Enrico Bellone (a researcher of history of science who worked on Galileo, Einstein and, yes, Popper). I'll try to be neutral about this.
Still, my sensation is the incipit of this article is also slightly biased, towards Kuhn's view of science.
Let me put forward a couple of proposals, which I hope can sound neutral enough:
  • 1) may we define pseudoscience more similarly to dictionaries? In my (limited!) survey i didn't find definitions based on the "majority of scientists": cf. these definitions
  • 2) this talk is getting much longer than the article itself, and it's probably about much more that Pseudoscience. It is also (mostly?) about Science, Scientific methods, the Problem of demarcation, and perhaps other philosophical topics as well. I suggest we move this discussion in the forum of the Phylosophy workgroup. The discussion might also be about which sections belong to which of the articles above. If someone agrees, please start a thread there! I'll join!
  • 3) I probably know Popper a little better than Kuhn. I'll try to edit the relative section here, making use of Popper's books as much as I can. I believe I have something to contribute in accuracy, at least. But I'll need a couple of days to organize my mind on this before I can do something.
Thanks for this exciting discussion! I love this! --Nereo Preto 08:44, 31 January 2007 (CST)
Yes, this article needs to be in the context of (and consistent with) all those articles and others too - obviously including the articles on Popper Kuhn and Feyeraband. This has the particular problem of meeting Citizendium ideals of fairness, neutrality and balance.

For me personally, I think I'm with Popper in my heart but with Kuhn and Feyeraband in my head; but all three are wonderful and exciting thinkers. I'm very glad to see you join in here!Gareth Leng 12:33, 31 January 2007 (CST)

I think your dictionary definitions do include the concept of "in the view of a "majority of scientists", but instead of saying it explicitly, they imply it, for example: "any of various methods, theories, .... considered as having no scientific basis." Who does the considering here, do you think? :-) Nancy Nancy Sculerati MD 08:51, 31 January 2007 (CST)

Ciao Nancy Sculerati MD. You are right, in part. Yes, some of those definitions refer to "someone" considering... etc. Still, I like them better because they allow to discuss the problem under Science or Problem of demarcation, which I believe are more appropriate. But look at the 3rd, 4th and 5th: these are different. The last of them is particularly interesting:
 a system of theories, assumptions, and methods
 erroneously regarded as scientific
(pseudoscience. Merriam-Webster's Medical Dictionary. Merriam-Webster, Inc. (accessed: January 31, 2007)).
Here, "someone" considering... are pseudoscientists, not scientists! This would also do it in my view. --Nereo Preto 09:28, 31 January 2007 (CST)
Ok, I made my attempt to contribute. I was not sure it was a good idea, many changes here, but I have seen Popper's philosophy is treated in many articles, and I suppose it will be eventually gone from this one, and substituted by a link (that is, I'm not doing too much harm anyways).
1) Title: I wanted to change it, because Popper believed that the scientific method do not exist (e.g., in Conjectures and refurations). It seamed to me unfair to describe Popper's solution of the problem of demarcation under "Defining science by the scientific method".
2) Many changes and deletions: sorry, I couldn't help. This version is more accurate in my view, but it is perhaps less easy to read for non specialists. Since I'm also a non-specialist, however, I thought this text should be understandable as well. The previous version had a far better English, you might decide this is another good reason to eventually revert.
3) Peter Singer's quote: I deleted it, because it mostly refers to Popper's political philosophy and critics of the historicism, and probably belongs more to historicism or Karl Popper. Yes, the quote includes also a description of astrology as a non-scientific system, but it is only because Popper's political philosophy derives from his epistemology and from his solution of the problem of demarcation. Thus, it comes natural to summarize Popper's critics to historicism by starting from his falsification principle.
4) Citations: my references are Italian translations of Popper's books and speaches, though good translations supervised by known philosophers. If someone could check out the references and substitute them with their originals, that would be great! This also means some key terms may be wrong, e.g.: was falsificabile (Italian) originally falsifiable? Or was the Italian term the translation of something else?
I fear this post is going to be controversial... please comment, or revert! --Nereo Preto 07:38, 6 February 2007 (CST)

No need to fear controversy, I think we're all anxious to get things right and can only do that by addressing problems, and I think you have some good points. I'm sure that as the articles on Popper are written it will become easier to link to them, but for the moment I think we have to make the article self contained. I dont have a copy of C and R but in Objective Knowledge he talks extensively of The Scientific Method, though in terms that make me think he was really attacking Kuhn - (e.g. "Should anyone think of scientific method as a way to success in science he will be disappointed. there is no royal road to success."). I agree about Singer, I had included it because he expressed Poppers position so very clearly, but you are right, the context for the quote is historicism. I'm very glad you're getting involved...Gareth Leng 12:18, 6 February 2007 (CST)

Thanks Gareth, I feel encouraged to continue in my contributions - see below... --Nereo Preto 04:15, 7 February 2007 (CST)

Definition of Pseudoscience

(I'm reformatting in an attempt to not have to scroll through the whole page in order to comment.) That is interesting. I guess that the implied view is really from "a majority of reasonable people", and that the majority of reasonable people take their view from the majority of scientists about what is science and what is not. Nancy Sculerati MD 09:39, 31 January 2007 (CST)

To centralize our efforts, it was suggested that the discussion on this point was moved to Article mechanics talk page. So it was - interested reader is invited to follow the link. --Alex Halicz (hello) 02:38, 9 February 2007 (CST)

I changed it to a format of the kind I am talking about. This is just an example. I took the old introduction, which discusses the word derivation, and put it in a top section set apart by italic text in a smaller font. The idea is that one's eye can skip over this, or- if looking for the word derivation, focus on it. I think this is a useful format for most articles. Nancy Sculerati MD 14:11, 9 February 2007 (CST)

comments on Article mechanics talk page. --Alex Halicz (hello) 10:16, 10 February 2007 (CST)

I posted a new definition. The style is very much like that of the previous one, but I tried to make it less dependant on the opinion of the scientific community. I made a reference to a online dictionary giving a comparable definition. Hope this improves it somehow. I know other dictionaries may give definitions more similar to the previous one, but I believe the approach of avoiding a reference to opinions makes the definition more useful - this is a choice of mine, however, I don't see it as a non-neutral attitude. --Nereo Preto 11:19, 16 February 2007 (CST)


If this article was ever protected, it shouldn't have been. Since we can shut down vandals so quickly, and since everyone else behaves themselves so well ;-), there is no need to protect any pages other than, perhaps, the front page. --Larry Sanger 12:08, 7 February 2007 (CST)


I think a discussion of Lysenkoism is in order here. The modern sense has expanded to include pseudoscience, in the sense of science being obligated to conform to a political or religious ideology; e.g., Creationists who insist science and its views on evolution is pseudoscients, or proponents of Intelligent design who pervert science to meet their agenda. The few people who still deny the reality of global warming can also fit in here. --Mark Odegard 12:03, 10 February 2007 (CST)

Reference for list of pseudosciences

Awhile back we were discussing whether our list of paradigmatic pseudoscience candidates might not be arbitrary, and Gareth (I think) suggested surveying some body of literature (in philosophy of science, I guess) for the examples most frequently proposed. In that spirit, here is one citation, with a lead to more (if anybody can get ahold of the second book).

Alter, Joseph S. Yoga in Modern India: The Body Between Science and Philosophy. Princeton UP, 2004. Alter is an anthropologist of sport/fitness, and also writes on cross-cultural understandings of science. On p. 39 he gives the following list of topics which he says are typically discussed as pseudosciences:

Astrology, alchemy, phrenology, ESP, telekenesis, UFO studies, Creation Science, homeopathy, naturopathy, "healing touch" ("among many others" in the healing field). A bit further down he complains that TCM and Ayurveda are wrongly dismissed as belonging in this category, and also mentions psychotherapy as a related issue. Velikovsky (spelled Vilikovsky, if this is not just an alternate Russian transliteration scheme) is name-dropped a few pages later.

Alter seems to approve of a book by Robert C. Weyan, Marsha P. Hanen, and Margaret J. Osler (with an introduction by Marx W. Wartofsky--parents, PLEASE have mercy on your children when you pick their names!) entitled Science, Pseudoscience, and Society (1980).

From this (admittedly unscientific!) sample it appears that our selection is more or less confirmed. (He has alchemy, we have IQ studies.) Bei Dawei

OK On re-reading this article after a while, I have to confess myself deeply unhappy with large aspects of it. Essentially if this article is going to be intellectually coherent it has to itself avoid all of the pitfalls associated with pseudoscience, or we will have what WP has which is a pseudoscientific article about pseudoscience, the very worst sort of nonsense. What I don't like about this article now are the specific assertions made, without supporting evidence, that pseudoscience is a judgement passed by some consensus of scientists on those fields. In fact I think that what the article is trying to say is that "there are lots of areas of junk science and if real scientists could be bothered to find the time to comment on them then they would call them pseudoscience". Well maybe, but it seems to me that we should be very careful of our assumption of authority in what we say on CZ and not introduce disputable assertions that lack clear documentable evidence.

I've cut two sections, for the moment, for different reasons. The first, ESP studies, I removed simply because fairly obviously investigating claims of the paranormal is a perfectly reasonable scientific exercise, and the Rhines were clever and good scientists in much of what they did; they may have come to be overpersuaded of the reality of ESP and there was some suggestion of fraud (manipulation of data to exaggerate an effect), but I haven't seen that pinned down. However this points to a general problem, where exactly is the pseudoscience? If someone claims evidence of paranormal properties then is investigating these pseudoscience? No. Is reporting the evidence pseudoscience? No. If you do the experiments and become convinced that there is something in this, as Rhine did, does this make you a pseudoscientist? No. So who are the pseudoscientists? Actually the only pseudoscientists are those who deliberately misrepresent the nature of the evidence for ESP - and they are pseudoscientists in exactly the same sense as those who write the adverts for toothpaste, skin creams etc etc. It's not a feature of the field.

The second, on complementary therapies, is just insidious. The theme is a catch all for everything outside conventional Western medicine, and while it includes some gross examples (check your e mail for remedies for impotence, rejuvenation etc etc) much of what is gernerally thought of as complementary and alternative medicine either has no pretensions to being science or else is working to develop a scientific model, and accepting the disciplines of the scientific method. So as a paradigmatic example, it just doesn't begin to work. What does this section tell us either about pseudoscience or about CAMs?

I'm not happy with the other sections, but I know that they at least can be bcked up by serious published analysis addressing exactly the issue at hand. In particular, astrology has been used as a test case of the demarkation problem countless times, Popper wrote quite extensively on psychoanalysis and aspects have been regularly criticised since. The IQ studies have been extensively attacked, but one problem - no not a problem one feature is that scientists like Gould may indeed attack the whole credibility of something and yet not call it pseudoscience because they don't agree with using the term at all - this is particularly the case with Gould who in his role as a historian of science was exceptionally alert to the ahistorical fallacy, and to the inevitabily subjective nature of many 'facts'. But I'll look.

Finally the time line.... what is it for exactly? What point should it convey? I don't know how to begin to improve it without understanding this. Is it to show the growth of rationality or the flight from reason? If there is no progression, why do dates matter? Anything in this will need proper research and referencing, as every single thing is potentially disputed in this context as the context is so pejorative.

Gareth Leng 09:02, 16 February 2007 (CST)

Wow Gareth, many GOOD points here!
I'm totally with you about the timeline. Pseudoscience is not a cultural movement or a particular branch of science (or non-science) with its own logical evolution, a timeline is not of help to the reader. I admit this timeline sounds to me like an odd collection of unrelated episodes of bad science. I'm for its deletion (or complete rethinking, but how?)
Paradigmatic examples are useful instead, but they are examples: we probably do not need a complete list. It is more informative to select a few of them (the most paradigmatic!) in my view. ID and phrenology alone could do it, and are hardly controversial as examples. I am not an expert of phrenology, but I warmly suggest some rows about it, because of its racist consequences. I believe it's a great example of how bad science could be dangerous, and how it might arise from the interests of people with evil attitudes...
There is actually an article about ID under construction. I suggest we let it maturate a little, than we should link it here and take inspiration for the relative "paradigmatic example".
The full article could (should?) come out to be a short one after all, as long as separate articles are given for each pseudoscience.
Nereo Preto 10:26, 16 February 2007 (CST)

I'm with you on the dangers of bad science, and know a bit about phrenology (Edinburgh was a centre of it in the 19th century). There is something of a problem about ahistorical fallacies - i.e. would really have to judge it by the standards of the time, so think for that reason phrenology might be better left to its own article; it was attacked in its time as being pseudoscientific but I'd have to read up to see exactly why. Gareth Leng 11:45, 16 February 2007 (CST)

For better or worse, ESP Studies and various ACM's are often so targeted. You are proposing to avoid these, on the grounds that these attacks are wrong / irrational / unscientific. I think it would be better to acknowledge the controversy. Bei Dawei

It's more a matter of being very careful and quite specific. "ESP studies" is after ll what the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal do, and to seem to suggest that anyone would characterise this as even plausibly pseudoscience is just, well, illiterate. So what is accused of being PS exactly, and by whom, that's the point, and CZ is not a vehicle for repeating the kind of crass "popular" skepticism that appears on web blogs.

As for CAMs, it's even more important to be rational and selective. We cannot accept that there is a significant body of reasoned argument that something is a pseudoscience without sight of that argument; let's see the argument raised and if it has any intellectual credibility and coherence, or if it is promoted by anyone of obvious notability, then we should ensure that it is represented.

So, the following seem relevant to considering whether and how to discuss the paranormal:

  • Wiseman R, Watt C. Belief in psychic ability and the misattribution hypothesis: a qualitative review. Br J Psychol. 2006 97:323-38. PMID 16848946
  • O'keeffe C, Wiseman R. Testing alleged mediumship: methods and results. Br J Psychol. 2005 96:165-79. PMID 15969829
  • Marks DF. The psychology of paranormal beliefs. Experientia. 1988 44:332-7 PMID 3282908
  • Hewitt GC. Misuses of biology in the context of the paranormal. Experientia. 1988 44(4):297-303. PMID 3282905
  • Kurtz P. Skepticism about the paranormal: legitimate and illegitimate.Experientia. 1988 44(4):282-7. PMID 3282903

For CAMs

  • Herbert JD, Lilienfeld SO, Lohr JM, Montgomery RW, O'Donohue WT, Rosen GM, Tolin DF. Science and pseudoscience in the development of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing: implications for clinical psychology. Clin Psychol Rev. 2000 20:945-71. PMID 11098395
  • Ostrander GK, Cheng KC, Wolf JC, Wolfe MJ. Shark cartilage, cancer and the growing threat of pseudoscience. Cancer Res. 2004 64:8485-91 PMID 15574750
  • ID: Schwartz RS. Faith healers and physicians--teaching pseudoscience by mandate. N Engl J Med. 2005 353:1437-9. PMID 16207844

For psychoanalysis etc

  • Joseph J. Twin studies in psychiatry and psychology: science or pseudoscience?

Psychiatr Q. 2002 Spring;73(1):71-82. Review. PMID 11780600

  • Forstein M. The pseudoscience of sexual orientation change therapy.BMJ. 2004 328(7445):E287-8. PMID 15087366
  • PhrenologySimpson D. Phrenology and the neurosciences: contributions of F. J. Gall and J. G. Spurzheim. ANZ J Surg. 2005 75:475-82. PMID 15943741

Anything else? I've trawled databases for solid reviews or apparently notable primary papers.Gareth Leng 05:59, 19 February 2007 (CST)

This is a tricky area; from the introduction I've edited mainly to remove "with a long history of scrutiny by the scientific community and the society, a general consensus" - asserting arguments by claimed consensus (arguments from authority) is something we have to try to avoid I think. In fact, if we seek a consensus from society in general, we should perjhaps remember that a consensus believes in ESP, horoscopes, creationism...... Gareth Leng 11:46, 19 February 2007 (CST)

Hi Gareth, your last edit is fine! Good job. --Nereo Preto 07:44, 21 February 2007 (CST)

For those of us who don't have access to the material cited, could you summarize what conclusions you would have us draw from it?
In the case of CAM, it's obvious that people (including medical and legal authorities) argue about whether its various components qualify as pseudoscience. In fact psychotherapy and IQ (use in general, not application to race or gender) seem to be protested more rarely. Bei Dawei

I've tried to look as objectively as I can for examples of reasoned and scholarly approaches to the issue of whether particular fields or theories can be properly called pseudoscientific. I searched PubMed for relevant terms, looking in particular for reviews in appropriate journals and for particularly notable articles. My conclusion for what its worth is that this is a term that scholars when writing in the peer reviewed literature use very sparingly, perhaps because of its ambiguity and inherently subjective and judgemental overtones; if a theory is flawed for instance it is enough to show that it is flawed. However there are some exceptions, and most of these in fact are within the psychology/psychoanalysis literature because in this broad area there has been at times a quite bitter internal debate about the appropriate direction for the field. Psychoanalysis was of course one of the three classic paradigmes identified by Popper, and so this judgement has also attracted interest from philosophers and others outside the field. In medical areas, the issue that has attracted most attention is the advertising of dubious medicinal cures for treating a range of conditions, using advertising material that cites scientific work inappropriately giving an apparently spurious justification for remedies that contain little or no active ingredients. For IQ studies, this issue attracted enormous scholarly attention through the work of Eysenck, the publication of the Bell Curve, and the very public interventions of Steven Jay Gould (The Mismeasure of Man).

You state that "In the case of CAM, it's obvious that people (including medical and legal authorities) argue about whether its various components qualify as pseudoscience" No its not obvious at all (depending on what you mean exactly by CAMs, but I will talk here about the regulated professional CAMs such as osteopathy, chiropractic and acupuncture). If you look at the public policy statements of medical bodies, Government advisory committees, NHS and HIH review boards, the AMA etc you will not find this argument (bot now, you would have once); on the contrary now you will find clear statements accepting their efficacy (in certain conditions), and you will find the AMA for instance advising its members to be very cautious about disparaging CAMs (because they might be embarrassed by the evidence of their efficacy), and you will find clear statements supporting the need for continuing research to better understand the basis of their efficacy. If you search PubMed for instance for chiropractic + pseudoscience, you will find virtually nothing except internal discussion within chiropractic about whether the profession should or should not abandon some concepts... a discussion very like internal discussions in virtually every serious field. There are elemnets in my own field that I personally consider pseudoscientific nonsense and occasionally I say so. It dosn't make neuroscience a pseudoscience.

However you will find, for the CAMs, quite an extensive web based "skeptical" campaign against some CAMs (You will also find web-based campaigns against vaccination, pharmaceuticals, ECT etc etc). You will also find many skeptical organisations, that propagate critical accounts of CAMs and quite liberally use terms like pseudoscience. Some of the members of these organisations are serious scholars. Personally I find the standards of rigor and objectivity in these websites very disappointing, and would no more think of citing them than I would consider citing sites that exist to promote or advertise CAMs.

What we must not do here is to base judgements on populist campaigns; indeed we should try hard to avoid judgements at all. We can describe the issues, and characterise the arguments and disputes - but to do so we must find those arguments in coherent and reasoned form, expressed in the scholarly literature or in the writings of distinguished authorities - people whose authority demands we take seriously what they argue at careful length, scientists like Gould and Feynmann, as well as philosphers like Popper, Feyeraband and Kuhn. Gareth Leng 07:39, 23 February 2007 (CST)

On statistical tets

I have cut a small section on statistical tests. The reason is technical, a test in the circumstances described can provide evidence that an effect exists, but cannot be used to show that there is no effect. It is simply never the case that any statistical test can demonstrate the absence of an effect, the best they can do is to fail to provide evidence for its presence, or to show that at most an effect is small.Gareth Leng 03:48, 3 May 2007 (CDT)

Political attacks on ID

Cut from article:

Intelligent Design

Intelligent Design, as promoted by members of the Discovery Institute, argues that the complexity and harmony of the universe and especially of life on earth, implies the existence of an intelligent creator. To its critics, the theory was designed to circumvent U.S. prohibitions against the teaching of Creation Science as part of the scientific curricula of public schools. If so, the strategy did not work. In his decision for Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, Judge John E. Jones III agreed that Intelligent Design is "a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory". He went on to say that

"...ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980's; and (3) ID's negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community." (page 64)

This is just a political attack on ID. It begins, not by stating what ID says and showing how this fails to describe a testable theory - but by complaining that ID goes against the grain of US politics.

Then it uses the authority of a judge's ruling - rather than a critique by a scientist or a philosopher of science.

This is (1) not neutral and (2) not even correct. --Ed Poor 17:17, 25 May 2007 (CDT)

I think it important to include this. There is a separate article on Intelligent Design that deals with its claims more fully; the importance here is that this is a rare and important example of a judicial treatment of claims for scientific status. This article does not in fact make any judgements about ID, but confines itself to a verbatim quote from the judge, without any comment on that ruling. I think it mportant not to get into the issue here of the merits of the claims of ID to scientific status, those are covered in the ID article. However, not to note that the issue of whether something is judged to be scientific or not has important implications would be a serious omission. Most claims that something or other is pseudoscientific are mere jibes, words in the wind, often made without real thought or consideration: these are words with consequences, whether justified or not.Gareth Leng 03:44, 4 July 2007 (CDT)

I am going to re-insert this. It's not a political attack; the judge was summing up the evidence presented during the case. The ruling is authoritative because it's based on science. John Stephenson 03:36, 30 May 2007 (CDT)


I cut this section for two reasons.

"Supporters of ID contend that it is Darwinism that is pseudoscience, a contention shared by many evolutionists. Most French biologists reject Darwinism, for example, including the late Pieffe R. Grasse, the most eminent. Explicitly calling Darwinism pseudoscience, Grasse said that the theory is "either in conflict with reality or cannot solve the basic problems.""

I have two problems, first it is a response to an argument that is deliberately not made - the article simply reports a judgement without entering into the argument.

Secondly, I really doubt that it's true, I don't know who Grasse was, and can't find him on Google or PubMed; this is probably my ignorance and incompetence, but the statement is wholly inconsistent with what I know of my many friends amongst French biologists.Gareth Leng 11:56, 16 July 2007 (CDT)

Bad science vs Pseudoscience

Should the mistake by Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons really be considered as an event on the pseudoscience timeline? Chris Day (talk) 13:16, 29 November 2007 (CST)

Not without some sensible commentary.Gareth Leng 03:04, 30 November 2007 (CST)
Wouldn't any sensible commentary just explain that it was not pseudoscience? If so, we should probably just axe it, or do you have something else in mind? Chris Day (talk) 09:44, 30 November 2007 (CST)
I subscribed to the Skeptical Inquirer for 20 years and followed the Pons business closely. I think it is *clearly* a case of bad, or mistaken, science, and not pseudoscience. There are, I believe, even *now* still some believers in cold fusion, some of them credentialled, and *these* people might be said to be practicing, or believing in, a "pseudoscience." Overall, I think the reference should either be removed or rewritten to say it was a case of mistaken science. Remember Z rays, or whatever they were at the turn of the 20th century? Hayford Peirce 11:40, 30 November 2007 (CST)

QM ever seen as pseudoscience?

I read the following as stating that quantum mechanics was considered at one time a pseudoscience:

Many theories, claims, and practices have been attacked as pseudoscientific, and many continue to be so regarded. But some—including [...] quantum mechanics—have since won general acceptance.

Can somebody be more specific? I'm well aware of the history of QM, but don't know that any physicist ever saw it as pseudoscience. --Paul Wormer 05:02, 30 November 2007 (CST)

Absolutely right, not sure where that came from.Gareth Leng 06:53, 30 November 2007 (CST)

Not sure about the brights reference

For many people, at least some 'pseudoscientific' beliefs, for example that the pyramids were built not by men but by prehistoric astronauts, are harmless nonsense. Horoscopes are read for fun by many, but taken seriously by few. Others, notably the "brights" movement, feel that such beliefs are always harmful.

It'd be interesting to know where this came from. I'm pretty sure that not all Brights consider all forms of pseudoscience harmful - and it's difficult to know what that means. For instance, I don't think that reading a horoscope is damaging in and of itself, but I do think that the sort of person who would make important decisions on the basis of irrational ideas like horoscopes does put themselves at risk - they might choose to invest in a business because of the advice of a psychic and lose a lot of money, when rational thought about the venture would have been more fruitful in making a good decision. I think that the ethics (for want of a better word) of pseudoscience and bullshit (in the Frankfurtian sense) is worth discussing, but am not sure that this type of sentence is a fair reflection on that topic. --Tom Morris 19:17, 23 April 2008 (CDT)

I thought the "Brights" were none other than atheists with a more cheerful name. [6] Atheists oppose any idea which contradicts their ideological position, especially if the idea involves the supernatural.
To be completely neutral, we might go so far as to leave open for our readers the question as to whether Materialism and Atheism are correct. And we might likewise leave open the question as to whether the Supernatural might exist, or even be detectable.
A question about the definition of science and the scientific method is about whether science is only a way of discovering knowledge, or whether it has made a conscious and valid choice not to examine certain phenomena which go beyond its circumscribed limits. In particular, will "science" try to study human thought and emotion and will, relying only on the hearsay testimony of human volunteers? And will "science" likewise study things which cannot be perceived by the 5 physical senses (i.e., reports from mediums)?
Slapping labels like pseudoscience or irrational on an idea gives us a powerful motivation to stop listening to anyone about it, but there is also the temptation to use those labels to suppress valid ideas. For example, it has become popular in the United States to call opposition to homosexuality irrational (using the label homophobic whose root phobia means "irrational fear or hatred"). Yet there are many scientists who published in peer-reviewed journals who don't seem at all fearful or hostile but rather sympathetic to those whom they study.
It's much easier editorially to say that X opposes Y, and then to give a summary of his reasons - than it is to say that Y is pseudoscience. The latter calls upon us as writers to draw conclusions, often amounting to original research. I'll be happy to get more active in this project if we can agree on a very high standard of neutrality which lets readers make up their own minds, based on the most accurate and useful descriptions we can provide. --Ed Poor 20:32, 6 April 2010 (UTC)
I'd hesitate to say that atheists disagree with positions other than dealing with the supernatural. Of course, especially in U.S. politics, atheism has no monopoly on opposition disagreeing with ideology. I have enough problem with working definitions of American progressivism and American conservatism, where I try for neutrality in the challenging context of politics. While the Coffee Party Movement is a reaction to the Tea Party Movement, there are times I wonder if the Greeks have a trademark on the Hemlock Party Movement, not, of course, to be confused with the Hemlock Society. --Howard C. Berkowitz 20:51, 6 April 2010 (UTC)


I redefined the lede to drop "deception" (which says the advocates know their ideas are false, rather like a stage magician. This theme does not appear in the article) And I added the idea that the scientific community is making the judgment call here (which is discussed in the article.) .


It is not true that the theory of evolution, plate tectonics, and the Big Bang were generally considered pseudoscience. The scientific consensus on plate tectonics was "not proven" . See the Edelman article Richard Jensen 12:47, 2 July 2008 (CDT)

Looked into this and found the Gould article, and other strong sources supporting the case that the theory of continental drift was indeed not merely regarded as not proven but actively denigrated. Gareth Leng 18:07, 15 January 2009 (UTC)

Sloppy, poorly defined

The intro defines pseudoscience as going against the mainstream.

  • A pseudoscience is any theory, or system of theories, that is claimed to be scientific but that the mainstream scientific community deems fallacious.

But the ref that was there said, "an activity resembling science but based on fallacious assumptions."

There's a difference between being deemed fallacious and being based on fallacious assumptions. Ignaz Semmelweiss believed that childbed fever was spread by "an invisible substance", but his theory was deemed fallacious. Other scientists didn't even bother to investigate his work - although after the germ theory of disease was accepted, scientists belatedly realized that his work was valid. Indeed, it not only resembled science but was based on true assumptions.

So was it pseudoscience (definition 1: the mainstream scientific community deems it fallacious) or not pseudoscience (definition 2: an activity resembling science but based on fallacious assumptions)?

The way the article is written, it seems to cover any scientific claim which does not enjoy widespread support. But I think in science it doesn't matter how many other people suppose you are right or wrong - rather, it is whether other scientists are able to reproduce your results. If they try, but they can't duplicate them then your idea is in trouble. If they don't even try, you have to wait a decade or two. If they try and succeed, you're in luck. --Ed Poor 03:20, 4 February 2009 (UTC)

the WP lede sentence is actually pretty good

or so I think:

Pseudoscience is defined as a body of knowledge, methodology, belief, or practice that is claimed to be scientific or made to appear scientific, but does not adhere to the scientific method,[2][3][4] lacks supporting evidence or plausibility,[5] or otherwise lacks scientific status. Hayford Peirce 03:32, 4 February 2009 (UTC)

"Lacks supporting evidence" is the key. Sometimes scientists tout a theory without providing evidence to support their claims. The theory can even become very popular and achieve mainstream status. But isn't the History of science littered with the corpses of such theories?
"Cannot be falsified" is another key, although I'm still working on the wording. If there is no possible (or conceivable) way to disprove the theory, then it is not science. That is, it's only science if there is some conceivable test which (even theory promoters agree) would prove the theory wrong. "All swans are white" can be disproven by producing a black swan. (The theory then must be modified to say "Normally swans are white."
"Cannot be reproduced." If other scientists run the same experiments, but they can't get the same results, then it's pseudoscience. (That is, only people who support the theory report results which confirm the theory.) Whenever anyone claims to have invented perpetual motion, the US Patent Office requires them to submit a working model. This is the problem with "cold fusion". --Ed Poor 14:24, 4 February 2009 (UTC)
Careful with "cannot be reproduced"; it should be clear that it may be adequate to reproduce observations. The Environmental Impact Statement required for experimental cosmology would be...astronomical. Howard C. Berkowitz 14:34, 4 February 2009 (UTC)
It seems fairly simple to me. Pseudoscience is something which is not scientific, however that is defined, but makes pretensions to being so. The same is true for pseudohistory and even pseudolaw. In each of these three disciplines, there are debates as to how to delineate the borders of the field, but that doesn't change the fact that pseudo-disciplines are basically pretensions to that discipline. I wouldn't consider, say, the Church of Scientology to be pseudoscience, but a number of their claims about human psychology are pseudoscientific. Another example. I don't consider political ideologies to be pseudoscience. You can perfectly well believe that socialism or conservatism is the way to creating a just and good society. What might be pseudoscientific is if you were to claim something within the scientific realm - say, a Marxist historicism claim that society will play out in a certain way. We can all probably agree that something like dowsing is pseudoscience. It imitates science but is not scientific. Quite why will depend on one's particular view of science. Perhaps we need an article on the demarcation problem in the philosophy of science. --Tom Morris 15:01, 4 February 2009 (UTC)

Ed mentions some of the criteria that a method may be called "scientific". I presume that Hayford's footnotes [2], [3], and [4] (attached to "scientific method") mention similar criteria.
Re scientific corpses: Scientists like to call almost any set of rules/explanations a "theory", including sets of rules that are more dependable than the Bank of England (oops, bad example), such as Einstein's theory of relativity which at present is doubted by nobody. This use of the the word "theory" is confusing for non-scientists, who hear it as "it's just a theory", but for scientists "theory" means the best possible explanation at the present time. If somebody finds a theory that gives a better explanation of known facts, then the new theory will be accepted (after quite some fighting, of course). This does not mean at all that the obsolete theory (a scientific corpse) was not scientific. "Science" is not another word for "absolute truth".
Further, do not forget "observations". I would write [...] "run the same experiments or try to make the same observations" [...]. Many branches of science (astrononomy, geosciences, evolution theory, ... to name a few) depend largely on observations, not on experiments.--Paul Wormer 15:06, 4 February 2009 (UTC)
Gravity: it's just a theory. ;) --Tom Morris 15:11, 4 February 2009 (UTC)

The problem I mentioned last year is that "pseudoscience" is can easily taken to mean "whatever is outside of the mainstream of science", whether it adheres to scientific principles or not. That is, a charge of pseudoscience can be slapped on to a theory you don't want to examine, simply because it goes against what you choose to believe. Look at what Paul Wormer said about "quite some fighting" before a theory that gives a better explanation is accepted. Why would anyone fight?

Science is three things: it is a body of ideas, generally taken as Knowledge, describing reality; it is an institution, consisting of the people and organizations involved in researching and promoting these ideas; and it is a way of discovering and verifying these ideas.

Scientific ideas, scientific institutions, and the scientific method intersect (or interact) with human beings turning the crank. There is nothing automatic here.

I'd like our definition of pseudoscience to be based on principles of discovery and verification, more than on whether a particular idea is popular. Or at least let us say that X called Y "pseudoscientific" because Z - rather than saying X rejecting Y because it lacked endorsement from group A or journal B.

Disclaimer: I am not trying to "wedge" in ideas like global warming being caused by the length of the sunspot cycle causing variations in the solar wind, affecting the amount of cosmic rays entering the atmosphere, in turn affecting cloud formation, which act as infrared reflectors (or blankets). You won't catch me POV-pushing here. However, I would like to see a neutral, fair description of the sunspot-cloud theory, based on significant and verifiable sources - something that Wikipedia has chosen not to allow.

We're going by Larry's version of NPOV, not the Wikipedia shout-you-down-if-we-disagree version. Because it cannot hurt our readers to step back and refuse to say which of two competing ideas is "right", as long as we describe them properly. Anyone who understands the idea, and the evidence and arguments given for and against it, can make up his own mind. --Ed Poor 19:44, 6 April 2010 (UTC)

the supreme crackpot of all time

Surely there should be a mention of: Hayford Peirce 02:18, 24 March 2010 (UTC)

Alternative, complementary and integrative medicine

Do you really mean "alternative medicine" in the strict sense of an alternative to conventional medicine, or are you including complementary and alternative medicine or integrative medicine? I'd be cautious here.

Whether or not "chi" is the mechanism of acupuncture is distinct from possible efficacy. Remember, it wasn't that many years ago when it was the conventional wisdom that most ulcers were caused by stress, and then two Australians got a trip to Stockholm for discovering most were due to treatable Helicobacter pylori infection.

There is increasing data that while acupuncture, manipulation, etc., may not work for the original theoretical reason, they may indeed cause demonstrable neurotransmitter release. There's considerable work on hybrid methods of acupuncture and electrical stimulation. NIH Consensus Committee reviews showed chiropractic, independent of its theoretical basis, was (slightly) the most effective intervention for acute low back pain.

Now, I personally reject true alternative medicine, but endorse integrative medicine. That term comes closer to the definition of medicine by Marcia Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine: "There are two kinds of medicine. Medicine that works, and medicine that doesn't work." I can cite any number of "conventional" medical interventions, some quite recent, which turned out to be useless, with what was effectively a pseudoscientific theory. On some issues, the jury is still out, such as the proper relationship of intensive medical management versus PTCA versus CABG---and that whole area may be finessed by new techniques such as angioneogenesis. Howard C. Berkowitz 13:10, 24 August 2010 (UTC)

It's right to be very careful about the wording. Insofar as homeopathy is portrayed as scientific, I wouldn't have any compunction about calling it psedoscientific because it does not pay more than minimal lipservice to the scientific method as I understand it. Personally I'd call it nonsense rather than pseudoscience, which I think is more to the point. Alternative medicine systems that invoke religious or spiritual rationale are I think not pseudoscientific if they're not clothed in apparently scientific dressings; again they're nonsense, but it's devaluing the word if we make pseudoscientific a synonym for nonsensical. When I use the word pseudoscientific it's generally to berate my fellow scientists for their misuse of scientific concepts to obscure ill-thought-through ideas, but that's not for publication, merely for private abuse.
Chiropractic is a difficult area to generalise about because there's a spectrum from lunatic fringe to well-regarded practice. In the UK, chiropractic is regulated by a body established by parliament - the General Chiropractic Council. They state that "The chiropractic vertebral subluxation complex is ...not supported by any clinical research evidence that would allow claims to be made that it is the cause of disease or health concerns."[7]
Certainly the founder of chiropractic declared that most diseases were caused by vertebral subluxation; but this is history, before general acceptance of the germ theory of disease, and when many "conventional" medics similarly denied the germ theory - you need only look at the history of Semmelweiss' attempts to get doctors to wash their hands. Whether any chiropractors still believe that most diseases are caused by subluxations I wouldn't know. I expect that some do, the world is full of lunatics and plenty of medics believe things that I consider daft (some are even Christians, and some of those even think that prayer might help). However it in the UK many GPs refer patients with spinal problems on to chiropractors, as many feel that particular chiropractors who they know and trust have valuable expertise with such problems
Now, the notion of vertebral subluxation isn't intrinsically pseudoscientific, nor is it nonsense; (it may be wrong, but that's something else). We know, as a fact, that many if not all peripheral organs and tissues are innervated by spinal as well as vagal neurones, certainly fat tissue is, as are the gonads, pancreas etc etc. It seems likely to me that a) spinal misalignment may result in neural hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity or other dysfunction and b) plausible that such dysfunction might result in peripheral organ dysfunction giving rise to diverse symptoms. It is also the case that many presenting patients have symptoms that are effectively undiagnosed (or are given a provisional diagnosis with no objective validation). (Most get better anyway (or die), that's the way of things). So it's not true that conventional science/medicine has good diagnoses for all conditions - far from it. So it's not the case that chiropractic is simply proposing explanations for conditions that have perfectly good objectively validated explanations - often they're proposing explanations for things that have failed to have an objectively diagnosed cause and are refractory to conventional treatment. By postulating a spinal origin of a particular disorder, and testing that hypothesis by manipulation, - well I wouldn't call it scientific but nor would I call it pseudoscientific.
Having said that, I wouldn't disguise my perception of the weakness in chiropractic. Briefly, I see no developed route by which particular symptoms of organ disease can be validly attributed to a specific site of misalignment; i.e. there is no apparent predictabilty, either that a particular site leads to a particular organ malfunction, or that a particular malfunction leads consistently to a spinal site-specific diagnosis, in a manner supported by objective evidence. But I think that falls short of calling belief in vertebral subluxation pseudoscientific. Frankly, the premise that vertebral subluxation is often a cause of peripheral organ dysfunction has more to be said for it than the core premise of osteopathy (which primarily differs from chiropractic in attributing peripheral dysfunction to alterations in blood flow rather than nerves).
In summary, if any chiropractors today believe that vertebral subluxation is the cause of most diseases, well I'd have some doubts about their judgement. But don't denigrate the whole profession by association with the views of a minority. Equally, I would not say that some GPs favour murdering their patients on the evidence of Harold Shipston.Gareth Leng 16:23, 24 August 2010 (UTC)
Gareth, your point that Hahnemann's work was much earlier than scientific medicine is a very good one. Based on his peers, he was probably as good as many. Osler, several decades later, suggested that classic homeopathy might be safer than classic allopathy, but also called (see Flexner Report) both classic allopathy and homeopathy to be "cults", to be replaced by scientific medicine.
I do a certain amount of reading in current chiropractic, and at least some are trying to integrate their ideas with neuroscience and other fields. Yes, I lost a family member to the overconfidence and ignorance of one chiropractor who called an abdominal aortic aneurysm a back disorder, in spite of classical visceral pain -- but I've also consulted chiropractors (dual-boarded in physical therapy) as part of a team with my primary care internist.
The thing that bothers me with homeopathy is that, by and large, they are stuck in Hahnemann's day, using provings rather than molecular biology, still present themselves as safer alternative medicine, and don't especially see themselves as complementary but a complete alternative.
Apropos osteopathy, are you using it in the UK or US sense? Some of the most complete physicians I know are DO's, who simply regard manipulation as one more technique, primarily for musculoskeletal and pain conditions rather than systemic disease. These, however, are people that have gone through accredited schools of osteopathic medicine (i.e., not osteopathy) and could have had residencies in non-osteopathic programs. Howard C. Berkowitz 16:42, 24 August 2010 (UTC)
I wasn't attacking the practice of osteopathy, which as I understand it is, as you say mainly manipulation for musculoskeletal and pain conditions and stress, only the rather bizarre theory behind it (which is increasingly sidelined). In the UK, osteopathy is regulated by the General Osteopathic Council in a parallel manner to chiropractic. Frankly I can't see much difference between what chiropractors and osteopaths do in practice and conventional physical therapists, and the objective outcomes seem similar.Gareth Leng 08:32, 25 August 2010 (UTC)
I think it's right to address this here but with cautions, particularly about logical integrity. I am concerned about "creep" in arguments. Consider the chain: "chiropractors believe that vertebral subluxations are a common cause of disease, and so infer the existence of vertebral subluxations from symptoms in the absence of direct evidence for them"; "physicians disagree, and doubt that vertebral subluxations can be the source of problems if they are too slight to be directly demonstrated" - does this make the beliefs of chiropractors pseudoscientific? The test is whether the inference leads to predictions that can be tested and are falsifiable - all this seems to hold, so the subsequent issue is whether the evidence supports the predictions or not. Now there are chiropractors that follow evidence based principles, and others that, like a passing generation of conventional medics, hold fast to faith in their own clinical experience. The issues here are subtle, and have been openly and robustly argued in extensive detail elsewhere on CZ - but these issues are not really anything to do with pseudoscience. On the other hand, advertisements for dietary supplements of manifest forms directly engage issues of pseudoscience as they commonly and blatantly misuse/abuse the terms and concepts of conventional science.

Anyway, I've posted a suggested alternative based on these unequivocal examples. I wouldn't mention prayer, meditation, faith healing, or TCM for example because they don't really claim a (conventional) scientific basis - but just because they're not pseudoscientific doesn't mean they're not nonsense.Gareth Leng 15:54, 25 August 2010 (UTC)

Just a terminology note -- it might be wise to avoid osteopathy, because "osteopathic medicine" in the US and "osteopathy" in the UK are quite different things. Osteopathic physicians go through full medical training, receive the DO degree, and, in addition, some manipulative techniques. They are fully recognized as eligible for all residency programs and board certifications, although they tend to concentrate in certain specialties. Howard C. Berkowitz 13:59, 2 November 2010 (UTC)
Another note, Gareth: where you don't see a major difference between physical therapy and chiropractic, I have known several practitioners, who regularly cross-refer with physicians, who are certified in both PT and chiropractic. They see the union as the wave of the future. One said that his chiropractic training taught him the most about flexibility, while physical therapy focused more on strength.
Manipulation, at some levels, must be by a physician, according to a DO friend, because certain manipulations have to be done under general anesthesia for pain, relaxation or both. I suspect manipulation under anesthesia is relatively new; he combines it with drug therapy, ranging from glucocorticoid injections to long-term NSAIDs. Howard C. Berkowitz 16:37, 2 November 2010 (UTC)

Singular of data is not anecdote

I hope this isn't going too far afield, but at least some of the examples, there may be what one could call a flawed experiment, or an unusual amount of input by the person being evaluated. For example, a young friend was given the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) IQ test. One of its components is fitting shaped pegs into holes. A typical time is (from memory) about 3 minutes. My friend finished it in about 30 seconds and asked the psychologist what it showed. Tugging to get the square peg out of the round hole, she growled "it proves you are very strong."

For Star Trek aficionados, remember the "Kobayashi Maru" test, which gave the candidates a choice of losing situations. This kind of testing is actually used quite often in selection of special operations forces; it's intended to give a qualitative picture of how the individual works under stress. Captain Kirk reprogrammed the testing computer so he had a winning alternative.

Is that something that should be considered an exceptionally high intelligence, or shoud the data be discarded? Howard C. Berkowitz 13:59, 2 November 2010 (UTC)

Prescience versus pseudoscience

Should we recognize any fields that were not especially scientific, but led to science? Freud's psychoanalysis had more useful descendants, and, thinking of Frieda Fromm-Reichmann's Principles of intensive psychotherapy, some did have useful guides to interaction. Classic psychoanalysis (been there, done that) is still recognized as the "first force" in psychotherapy, although "third force" humanistic, and blurry things such as cognitive-behavioral, have much more evidence of efficacy. Adler's variants probably are in greater use, especially for group counseling, than Freudian technique.

Somewhat unclear in origin but often attributed to Freud, the term flight into health, is so wonderful we should never lose it.

In other words, psychoanalysis started something, where astrology was a dead end, unless you consider circadian rhythm related -- I don't. Howard C. Berkowitz 16:28, 2 November 2010 (UTC)

I certainly agree astrology was a dead end. Some species of owl are said to use the phases of the moon as triggers for ovarian cyclicity, and I think some birds use stellar constellations to guide migration, but it can't be said this is astrology. Psychoanalysis - well there's still deep antagonism to it in some quarters - remember "recovered memory"?Gareth Leng 16:52, 2 November 2010 (UTC)
The greatest thing I learned, from three years of psychoanalysis, was the exact texture of the ceiling over the couch. More seriously, it did give me insights -- but not many tools to deal with them. Howard C. Berkowitz 19:07, 2 November 2010 (UTC)

I've seen some writers refer to the distinction as being between "protoscience" and "pseudoscience". The difference seems to me to be simply one of the intent of advocates of the position. Take intelligent design: the fact that it was consciously planned as a stand-in for creationism after the courts in the U.S. rejected creationism as a religious doctrine and thus not a valid subject for study in the science curriculum under the Establishment Clause shows that it was always a pseudoscience from the start. Something like the Benveniste research into memory of water may have started out as protoscience, but at some point between Benveniste's first paper and his death, it became a pseudoscience - the problem is delineating exactly where.

As for Freudian psychoanalysis, I certainly think it qualifies as a pseudoscience, but it seems to be a reasonably effective pseudoscience. The whole area of determining what is and isn't a pseudoscience is really tough, and if you spend enough time on the demarcation problem you eventually just end up waving one's hands, pulling the 'porno card' (i.e. "I know it when I see it") or using very ad hoc sociological criteria that don't actually give you a good criteria for objectively demarcating science and pseudoscience (I find "would Carl Sagan say it was science?" is a pretty good method of working out whether something is a science or not, but it is hardly a set of useful, objective, value-neutral, culture-independent criteria in the same way that, say, Popper's attempted solution of falsificationism tries to be). –Tom Morris 19:38, 2 November 2010 (UTC)

Advice anyone?

I've cut this out; I trimmed it to try and get it a bit clearer, now I've gone back to the source and have concerns: I'm going back here to pasting the section before I tried cleaning it up.

"James Oberg, NASA engineer and science writer, is famously quoted as observing “You must keep an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out.” (quote from: Shafer SL (2007) Did our brains fall out? Anesthesia & Analgesia. 104:247-8) Oberg points out that there is a qualitative difference between the level of uncertainty that must be overcome when proving something that is another case of a phenomenon that is already well established, and proving something that attempts to show the complete opposite of the accepted understanding of the world, or a brand new untested view of things. For example, if a new type of narcotic is synthesized, and testing in a group of subjects indicates that it relieves pain but is addictive- that is consistent with many other studies that show similar qualities of drugs with similar chemical structures. If, however, there is statistical indication that this new drug relieves pain but is not addictive, that flies against expectations and the results of years of other research. Could it be true? Yes, but the level of proof required is higher. Advocates of the non-addictive qualities of the second drug might argue that the drug is not addictive. It takes a sophisticated understanding of the use of statistics to recognize this as pseudoscience, that such an exaggerated claim is not warranted except by more rigorous proof, and that the same statistical tests may not be applicable in both situations."

Several problems here - there's no reference to Oberg, and no reason in Shafer's editorial to think that this is what Oberg said or meant. The Shafer editorial essentially proposes that Bayesian statistics be used to test unlikely claims rather than Fisherian statistics. This I think is never done and never possible; the editorial is a rhetorical flourish. Bayesian statistics requires assigning a prior probability to a hypothesis before it is tested - so unlikely hypotheses are set a higher standard of "proof" (not proof in any rigorous sense, proof in the sense of sufficient evidence to accept). The problem is there is simply no rational basis for assigning prior probabilities. I've never seen Bayesian statistics used in this way; in philosophy, it has been proposed that a Bayesian framework could provide some justification for inductive arguments in science; as far as I am aware this has no practical implementation and I think that scientists in my area at least would not agree that inductive arguments are valid or even useful. Shafer's editorial seems a long winded way of saying the obvious - that sensible people don't believe strange things unless they are forced to by exceptionally strong evidence. But putting the argument in the terms he does - well it sounds to me like a rather pseudoscientific argumentGareth Leng 10:03, 26 November 2010 (UTC)

If it could be tightened and directly sourced, that would be the solution, I think. It's a nice quote. Hayford Peirce 15:55, 26 November 2010 (UTC)
This might be best tied to innumeracy and linked back to pseudoscience. Hopefully, the analogy that comes to mind isn't too distant. There have been a number of studies that show the general public does not tend to judge semi-quantitative outcome and side effect risks in the same way that will a medically educated audience. One major area, which gets quite nuanced, is in end-of-life decisions, especially the probability of neurologically effective resuscitation. Another is the standard adverse effect terminology of "common", "uncommon", "rare", etc. -- the associated numerical probability assumptions are quite different in the general and educated populations. Howard C. Berkowitz 17:48, 26 November 2010 (UTC)
Ok, the quote wasn't Oberg, not at first for sure, and if Oberg used it he wasn't talking about anything medical. That's enough for me.Gareth Leng 12:27, 30 November 2010 (UTC)
Recent news about that journal. --Daniel Mietchen 13:38, 30 November 2010 (UTC)


"they laughed at Columbus". Not a good example. Columbus was wrong. He claimed the Earth was a lot smaller than the experts said. They were right, he was wrong. It was sheer luck that America happened to be roughly where he thought Asia was. (As an aside, he only "discovered" offshore islands, as the Vikings had done centuries before.) Peter Jackson 11:48, 22 January 2011 (UTC)

Ah but it's rhetorical. Did anyone actually laugh at Columbus? It's a quote from Sagan and its value (if any) is in its rhetorical force. But I've no objection to removing it.Gareth Leng 12:26, 22 January 2011 (UTC)
Let us say contemporary observers laughed at Columbus. Is there a qualitative difference, with the speed of propagation of information (and misinformation) between the threat of inaccurate information then and now? As an analogy only, I mention that an assumption, in automated distribution of Internet routing information, was that "bad news travels fast" -- that the withdrawal of an advertised route will propagate faster than the advertisement of a new route. Ahuja, Labovitz et al. demonstrated, with measurement, that the reverse is true. Howard C. Berkowitz 19:52, 22 January 2011 (UTC)

Cargo cult

This phrase needs explaining. Worshipping bringers of 'miraculous' technology, isn't it? Ro Thorpe 12:43, 10 October 2013 (UTC)

Something like that. We should ask Prince Philip, who is still worshipped as an island god in Vanuatu. John Stephenson 14:19, 10 October 2013 (UTC)
Ah! I remember. Ro Thorpe 21:41, 10 October 2013 (UTC)